Artisans around the world have been celebrated by Novica for two decades. Now, the leading online platform dedicated to artisan crafters, is pushing for a formal day of recognition.
Last month, Novica, the leading online marketplace for access to remote artisans, announced “World Artisan Day,” a celebration of global crafters.
“Calendar dates already exist for so many diverse professions and events, and causes, and yet there was no international day recognizing artisans,” Catherine Ryan, a Novica spokesperson, told Ethos via email.
“Artisans are fundamental to our cultural identities—in every region of the world. Artisans who practice traditional art forms are the guardians of our cultural legacies. Artisans who create new styles unquestionably influence the trajectory of modernity,” Ryan says. “Artisans are among the most important keepers of our world’s arts and cultures.”
Without a formal date celebrating artisans, the Novica team put the wheels in motion. They chose April 18th as a date with little conflict. It’s just days before Earth Day—a fitting parallel as that day aims to connect us to the planet we all share. Protecting cultures and crafts are keys to our survival if not literally as is the case with Earth Day, certainly it is on more spiritual and emotional levels.
The team set up the website, WorldArtisanDay.org, as a sharing platform where regional World Artisan Day celebrations are promoted. This past April, Novica hosted World Artisan Day celebrations in eight nations. The decentralized effort saw other groups and companies celebrate across the globe. Ryan says efforts happened in Africa and India “just as we’d hoped.”
Artisans around the world
Artisans are skilled creators who work with their hands. This includes a range of crafts from jewelry to fashion to rugs and decor. Best estimates suggest there are about 200 million artisans worldwide. Novica’s work impacts more than 75,000 individuals through about 3,000 artisan groups, master artisans, their employees, and family members.
“As artisans become financially successful on Novica, many are able to hire other artisans to assist them,” Ryan says. “This has swelled Novica’s impact group exponentially. And we also continue to onboard new master artisans.”
Novica’s range of artisans spans Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and products include jewelry, unique gifts, apparel, home decor, and fine art.
“On any given day at Novica.com you’ll find more than 70,000 handmade works of art for sale,” says Ryan. This often includes limited-edition and one-of-a-kind offerings.
Artisans are profiled on the site with portraits and stories about their lives and work, which Ryan says helps consumers feel that personal connection, something she says is “extra exciting” both for the consumers and artisans.
“We’ve transformed online shopping into a true around-the-world meet-and-greet travel adventure.”
That’s carried significant weight in the last two years as travel has been restricted and consumers experiencing wanderlust could travel to remote parts of the world all without leaving their homes. Online shopping and interest in handcrafted items soared during the pandemic—so too did a commitment to being more responsible and sustainable.
Recent sales figures put the artisan market at $680 billion in 2021, but Ryan says only the “tiniest percentage” reaches artisans. “Most of the world’s artisans earn subsistence incomes at best—and generally live in poverty,” she says.
Reversing that has been a core focus for Novica since the company launched more than two decades ago.
“Fashion trends in clothing, accessories and home decor tend to result in boom and bust sales cycles for artisans,” says Ryan.
“And these cycles are determined by corporate buyers who order mass quantities of a certain theme or certain item one year, promote the heck out of it while it’s in style, but then it’s over—because a new trend has been created, and last year’s trend is left behind in the previous year’s fashion and design magazines. An artisan will scramble to hire everyone in a village to fulfill a massive order for a certain embroidered textile, necklace, or statuette, for example, but the following year all those same artisans will be out of work. This happens over and over, all around the world,” Ryan says.
But not at Novica.
When the company got its start in 1999, it set out with a groundbreaking concept, “to work directly with artisans, eliminating multiple levels of middlemen, and for artisans to set their own prices based on international values, earning substantially more than they ever could when selling through traditional multi-tiered channels,” Ryan says.
“We’ve made tremendous strides, creating a new parallel reality for the artisans we have onboarded over the past 23 years,” she added.
The company is now the world’s largest impact marketplace. It takes on the administrative work so the artisans can focus on their crafts. It also offers business advice and microcredit loans.
“We were founded specifically to empower artisans and preserve cultures worldwide, and we continue to do so every single day,” Ryan says. It curates for and works with organizations including KIVA, Smithsonian, and UNICEF, among others.
Ryan says it is also important that Novica’s customers also benefit. “Better economics are enjoyed by buyer and seller when the traditional layers of intermediaries are removed,” she says, pointing to all the many resellers historically standing between a remote artisan in Brazil and a shopper at home in Los Angeles, Montreal or Berlin. “We were determined to level the playing field.”
Novica says this wasn’t happening before it set up shop, at least not at scale. Its closest competitor, Etsy, followed suit and also saw great results. For Novica, though, the focus is always on representing and supporting master artisans.
“We are so gratified each time we learn about artisans whose lives have changed for the better. For example, artisans who have been able to send children to university thanks to their family’s success through Novica,” Ryan says. “We hear these stories all the time. This type of frequent feedback greatly invigorates us, and continues to inspire our significant customer base as well.”
And now, for consumers who have yet to explore artisan crafts or truly understand their value in an ever-changing world, Novica is hopeful World Artisan Day will help elevate the conversation.
“A proposed calendar entry must receive sufficient popular validation by diverse people and organizations for calendar managers to add it,” says Ryan. “Our next big push will begin in 2023, when we will be able to demonstrate significant worldwide involvement of diverse interest groups and individuals,” she says.
“Next year we anticipate that the WorldArtisanDay.org calendar will be filled with listings for new April 18 artisan-themed events, fairs, and festivals around the world, hosted by diverse regional organizations and artisan groups,” Ryan says.
“Our intention remains for this movement to grow exponentially, taking on a life of its own.”
For more information, visit WorldArtisanDay.org.
[Correction | May 9, 2022: This article was edited to reflect Novica’s work with 75,000 individuals. The article originally stated 7,500.]